Requiem for COHO

COHO is dead, long live OR, Onderlinge Regeling

Aruba’s Prime Minister expressed a great sense of relief with the recent announcement of COHO’s premature death, we could even say she was joyful, victorious, vindicated.

The threat of what was perceived as draconic measures was removed, our mythical autonomy restored, and the responsibility of governing the country, as they please, went back to democratically elected representatives.

How was the threat removed? Last summer Aruba, Curacao and St Maarten banded together to present the Dutch with an alternative to COHO. Then this month in a four-country meeting in St Maarten the parties agreed on a new concept, Onderlinge Regeling, mutual agreement, which basically doesn’t mean much. The Good Orderly Direction offered by the three COHO members was replaced by whatever the countries want to do, without sanctions or supervision.

COHO, the Caribbean Agency for Reform and Development was born when the Dutch came to the rescue with 900 million florins of aid during the pandemic. In return, they proposed a Kingdom Act, which would establish that Caribbean body for reform and development, on the three islands, to promote administrative reforms and implement them, with the goal of creating more sustainable public finances, introducing practices for a more resilient, strong economy. All this was supposed to be embedded in a Kingdom Act, a Dutch law.

But as soon as the islands started to recover, they did not like the sound of what they perceived as outright interference.  They signed agreements in March 2020, when they were drowning, they had no choice, but now that they were swimming comfortably, they did not see benefits in overly bossy Dutch management.

The relatively new secretary of state, Van Huffelen, lost the argument to the three island premiers Evelyn Wever – Croes, Aruba, Gilmar Pisas, Curacao, and Silveria Jacobs, St Maarten.

If you recall at the time, when the Dutch offered liquidity support, they tied it with a reduction in expenses. GOA then cut the salaries of public employees and ministers and was instructed to also cut 60M from the AZV budget, plus cap salaries of state-owned company directors. This was supposed to alleviate/reduce our financial stress.

In its original form, COHO was suggested for the duration of six years. Three official professionals appointed by the Dutch, were assigned to introduce sanity into public finances. We waited with abated breath for the law to pass, but the islands wriggled, feeling it was an attack on their autonomy.  The Prime Minister of Aruba maintained a public fighting stance, reporting she was negotiating more amicable terms.

She signed the agreement in November 2020, under duress. It was dramatic. We were penniless. She also accepted the Landspakket, a package of suggested reforms, which she states were 80% suggested by Aruba.

As you know, the three Caribbean countries survived the crisis, dug themselves into very deep financial holes, yet continued to procrastinate on COHO, dragging their feet, all three parliaments were critical of the language of the law when presented in 2021.

Then in June 2022 OR was suggested to replace COHO, and in January 2023, COHO finally died and OR was proclaimed winner.

The three island coalition managed to shake Dutch financial scrutiny off.

This is the Requiem for COHO. It was a good idea, designed to help us pay back our debts.

At the end I think the Dutch also had second thoughts about it.

They are consensus seekers by nature, and couldn’t shove anything down the islands’ throats.

If the islands wanted to kill their economies by overspending, the Dutch could not do anything to prevent it. It is the islands’ right to self-destruct.

Can’t force anyone into a drug and alcohol treatment facility, either.

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January 18, 2023
Rona Coster